Still growing: Even with the capacity to make Shs4 million a week, Alex Gwavu Mpalanyi says his company is not yet where he wants it to be. He let in Mathias Wandera on his business secretes
Alex Gwavu Mpalanyi is not quick with his tongue. Unlike the average 24-year-old who would not pass up the opportunity to put their commendable slices of business success on the table and deservedly boast about it, he prefers not to get excited. Hands akimbo; he says very little, making a careful choice of words and remaining humble all the way.
But wrapped within this humble and reserved character is a shrewd business acumen and drive, blended with self-confessed passion for his job - graphics designing. At 24, Mpalanyi is already the mastermind behind Shaks Media Graphics, a company with a wide front of offered services ranging from printing (magazines, banners, brochures, business cards, diaries, calenders).
They also do all forms of branding and have often taken on special 3D animation projects for big clients such as the ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As he reveals, usually he is able to walk away with more than Shs4 million from one project that takes only a week of his time. And in his view, much as he is currently enjoying some success, the vision he has for his company tells him he it not even past the journey’s first quarter.
Finding his passion
After his O-Level, Mpalanyi was just like any other 16-year-old with a fog of multiple ideas hovering over his head, not knowing what he exactly loved and wanted to do with his life.
This would, however, change during his Senior Four vacation when he was brought on to volunteer at Elite Graphics printers, his uncle’s company. It was then that his love for graphic designing bubbled to the surface.
“For the first time in my life I was doing something I actually felt at home with. I just loved it and all of a sudden I wanted to learn everything to do with graphics. I was brought on as a volunteer so I was not being paid for my services. But at that point I cared not about the money. All I wanted was to learn,” Mpalanyi says.
Soon, his passion turned into his dream career line. And after his Senior Six, his uncle and mentor Archy Kiwanuka, offered to turn this dream into a reality by sponsoring him for a six-months graphics designing course at Digi-Line multimedia solutions during his vacation.
Determined, Mpalanyi later joined Makerere University to pursue a Professional Diploma in 3D Animation, specialising in graphics.
“Knowledge is very important. Loving something is not enough. You are supposed to seek the knowledge in that line to be good at it, and this sometimes comes at a cost. It took me well over Shs12million to complete my diploma. But that was necessary,” he says.
All this while, Mpalanyi’s father was not in support of the career he had turned to. He considered it a little mediocre. But he went easy on him and allowed him to pursue his dream.
Starting from the bottom
In 2012, fresh from university, Mpalanyi went back to his uncle’s company, this time as a designer. Since his uncle’s company is basically into printing, he would often design the concepts, which basically involves bringing the client’s idea to life on paper. Then he would offer the work for final printing, walking off with his wage for the design.
Meanwhile, he nursed dreams of building his own company and a year later, he chose to fly out of his uncle’s wings and face the tide on his own.
He did not have much capital. All he had with were a rented computer, and a dream. The computer he was using had been secured from a cousin’s girlfriend and the deal was for him to pay her Shs100,000 every month. He also managed to get a small desk in a sub-rented space at Muzza Plaza on Nasser Road in Kampala, paying Shs200,000 monthly in rent.
As he intimates, “Capital is important for business success but a determined mind with an idea is what is really necessary. People have often lamented that the reason they cannot start business is because they lack capital.
To me, this is a lame excuse because usually, the beginning does not call for much. I started at the bottom of the chain, with a bit of fear that if clients do not fall into the picture early enough, I may not stay in business for three months as I would fail to even foot the rent bill. But despite the fear, I believed and I dared to go out and start something.”
Given his trustworthy character, Mpalanyi steadily gained ground in business. He used to make prompt payments to the lady who had rented him the laptop and she soon became his friend.
Good enough, she had a bit of connections and always brought him clients, clients he always managed to retain, something he attributes to his quality of work. “Quality never fails. If you offer high quality services and work on every project transparently, why wouldn’t a client keep coming back to seek your services?” He rhetorically asks.
The break through
Soon he made enough money to buy his own computer (second hand) at Shs550,000. He then moved to a better space at Zebra House on Nasser Road, Kampala, where he paid Shs350,000 in monthly rent. It was then that he completed the registration of his company—Shaks Media Graphics.
The dire need to operate under a company arose from the fact that in his line of business, the big clients always prefer to hand their projects to a company rather than an individual. So with his company, his earnings suddenly tripled.
At Shs10million, he acquired a Konica Minolta C650 machine, able to print more than 30,000 copies in a matter of hours since his old HP Desjet was too slow and could not print the capacities the big clients always demanded.
Acquisition of more and bigger machines necessitated that he moves the company’s premises to a bigger space. That is when the company relocated to the current offices.
spite the success the Makerere University graduate is enjoying in graphics designing, this has not stopped him from carrying on other business as he has also ventured into farming. He is into piggery and owns a farm in Gayaza with 14 pigs and the number is steadily rising.
One wonders why he had to go into farming as well, and how he is able to run a successful graphics company together with his farm.
“It is not that hard. People are always looking to extend their income sources and to me, piggery came in handy. I employ a few people to take care of my farm as I may not have time to be on ground most of the time. My role there is to over-see. It is always important to have something on the side,” he advises.
In five years’ time, Mpalanyi envisions his company to have grown to one of the leading graphics designing and printing companies in the country, holding business partnerships with the top clients in the local market, even across the region. He plans to be able to employ more people on a permanent basis.
The same development plans hold for his farm. “Very soon, I will be supplying pork on a large scale. I know usually dreams are way perfect in comparison to reality. But surely, my plans will come to life. Some people may not believe you when you share your plans. They may even discourage you along the way. That is why I choose to be quiet about things most of the time. I don’t want to make noise. I always let my success make the noise.”